Women’s cross country finishes second at regionals, locks up spot in NCAA Championships

By Kyle Diller

The No. 14 Illini can sleep easy as a second-place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships has guaranteed them a spot in the NCAA Championships.

Illinois finished just behind Big Ten rival and last year’s Midwest Champions No. 7 Minnesota, as both teams earned automatic qualification to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 24 in Terre Haute, Ind.

“It’s nice to be able to walk away from the course knowing that you have an automatic bid to go to nationals,” head coach Jeremy Rasmussen said. “If you don’t make it, it takes a little bit of emotional energy because you’re wondering if you’re going to make it or not.”

Four-time All-American Angela Bizzarri led the Illini, earning a second-place finish individually. This marks the third year in a row the junior has finished second at Regionals.

“I was pretty happy with it, I felt pretty good” Bizzarri said. “You never know how you’re going to do until you finish, so it worked out pretty well for me today and everyone else had a really good race, so we’re all pretty pumped.”

Echoing coach Rasmussen’s comments, Bizzarri emphasized the importance of the results.

“That’s what we came there to do today, to hopefully get an automatic so we didn’t have to worry about it and think about it until Monday,” Bizzarri said. “It makes things a lot less stressful, it’s much more exciting.”

Senior Katie Engel trailed just behind Bizzarri, earning a ninth-place finish, her career-best at the Midwest Regional meet.

“I wasn’t that happy with it, but I’m just going to move on and focus for the next race,” Engel said.

Sophomore Chantelle Groenewoud and freshman Kristin Sutherland also had impressive races, as they finished 15th and 17th, respectively.

The Orange and Blue now turn their full attention to their most important meet of the season, the NCAA Championships, where they finished sixth last season.

“The biggest thing is making sure we recover properly from this race, there’s not a whole lot you can do at this point,” Rasmussen said. “Now it’s really just about making sure they’re feeling good, they’re feeling fresh, no one’s sick and they’re getting plenty of rest.”